14 July 2009
In the next few days, the Government is expected to announce spending plans for local transport, based on what’s known as "Regional Funding Advice". This will be the first transport spending decision following the Government's carbon reduction strategy and will be the first test of its commitment to tackling greenhouse gas emissions from transport. The signs are that the Government will duck hard decisions on funding and leave them until after the next election.
This briefing explains the process and explores some likely issues.
Regions asked to submit regional wish-lists
Last year, each English region (except London) was asked to give the Government advice on their transport spending priorities for the next five years. The Regional Assemblies (or in some cases their replacements, the Leaders’ Forums) and Regional Development Agencies submitted joint “Regional Funding Advice” or RFA lists at the end of February 2009. Nationally, these lists totalled £5.5 billion over five years. 
Of this, 75% of the money would go on road schemes, with the rest allocated for public transport, ‘integrated transport packages’ and highway maintenance. The South-East asked to spend 81% on road building, while Yorkshire and the Humber wanted to spend 46.6% on public transport – the only region to spend more on public transport than on roads. Overall this amounts to a £4bn road building programme
Planned spending cuts means many of these schemes can no longer be afforded
The Government is expected to approve a large number of the local transport projects proposed, but there are concerns about whether it can actually afford them. The Department for Transport allocated each region a budget last summer, before the full extent of the recession was understood.
The 2009/10 Budget earlier this year made clear that there would have to be reductions in spending from all departments, and local authorities have been told to expect cuts in local transport spending of at least 25%. This means that many of the schemes are unlikely to be built, although news of any cuts is expected to be deferred until after the next election.
Many of the schemes are unrealistic and won’t work
Because of the way the lists were put together, many of the schemes are unrealistic and can’t be delivered in the timescale or budget proposed. It is, for example, unlikely that the Hereford Outer Distributor Road can be built by 2013 when the council haven’t even decided which side of Hereford it’s going and are budgeting for half the money to come from private developers. It’s also clear that many of these schemes will worsen rather than solve traffic problems in their areas, by pushing traffic onto a neighbouring bottleneck and neglecting smaller scale options that could actually work.
Wish-lists could lock-in carbon emissions days after carbon reduction strategy
While each region was asked to consider the climate change impacts of their package of schemes, decision makers were often asked to choose schemes without any knowledge of whether the packages would increase carbon emissions. Many regions did not carry out a proper carbon audit, and decision makers in the West Midlands were presented with the CO2 impacts just days before their wish-list went to the Department for Transport, with little time for debate.
This decision will be the first test for the Department for Transport’s commitment to tackling greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Government guidance recommends against locking in carbon emissions, but the regional wish-lists overwhelmingly prioritised unsustainable, high-carbon transport.
Regional wish-lists did not represent people’s wishes – or regional and national policies
There were also concerns about whether the packages of schemes met with existing regional policies and whether local people were given enough involvement in the process of choosing which schemes to fund. Many schemes did not appear in the draft Regional Spatial Strategies, which detail the region’s needs and priorities, including transport and which areas are expected to be developed or have additional housing.
Local people complained about a lack of transparency and stakeholders complained about being left out of the process. Where stakeholders were consulted, their priorities were not always reflected in the final list of schemes; for instance, a meeting of stakeholders in the South West suggested spending 60% on improving sustainable transport, but the final package asked for 64% of money for road building.
Government must come clean and stop playing politics with traffic
The Campaign for Better Transport believes that it is inappropriate for the Government to approve funding for whole packages of schemes which represent poor value for money, are unpopular locally, clash with national and regional policies and which cannot be afforded.
The Government should instead come clean about the state of transport finances so that local authorities do not invest further revenue working up schemes which will never receive central Government funding. It should also begin investing in more affordable measures to reduce traffic and congestion which could be implement and afforded now. For example in three Sustainable Travel Towns bringing together lots of small-scale projects has reduced car use by up to 10% and seen big increases in cycling and public transport use.
Campaign for Better Transport will be available for comment on the Regional Funding Advice announcement.
Notes to editors
The full list of schemes which the regions would like to build between now and 2014/15 is available on our website: http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/campaigns/climate_change/roads/schemes.